With the new year upon us, it can often feel like the perfect time to start fresh in areas such as diet, relationships, and reading your Bible. We’ve asked our very own Pastor Kathi Shaw, overseer of Jewish ministries and Bible study author, to give us her tips on starting out your journey in Bible reading. Her piece is not just applicable but reveals her “why” behind an insatiable need for the Word in every season of life. It’s an honor to hear from this amazing teacher. Enjoy!
I’ll never forget the winter of 1995-2000 . . .
Winter? Surely I meant winters. No, crazy thing, I really meant it as singular, for that chapter was a winter season not in the natural, but for my soul.
Leading up to that season, I had been connected to a women’s Bible study group for seven years, where community was strong and friendships crossed generational lines. We were a fun but serious bunch when it came to our studies and we went at them book-by-book, verse-by-verse, semester-after-semester. It was life for me.
I was coming to know God for myself,; to experience Him for myself, and for the first time enjoyed a deepened intimacy with God through time in His Word. Most days I had more questions than answers as I read, but I loved the process and stayed at it. It was a season of growth and incredible discovery.
And then, the winter hit.
The time opened when our, then, 11-month old daughter was struck with an illness that took her life within 24 hours. That tragedy alone had the force to plow under even a sturdy soul, but the winter winds continued, and over the next five years we were hit by one storm after another: against our marriage, our family, our finances and my health.
All I knew to be true of God in the one season was brutally tested in the next.
By the grace of God, I stayed in His Word and found it unshakeable and relevant, and Jesus, faithful – boundlessly faithful. Colossians 1:17 says:
. . . and in Him all things hold together.
Truly, He held us together.
Life comes to us in seasons, doesn’t it? There are those we embrace, and others we . . . well, He holds us together. We need Him in every season, and even if we don’t fully realize it at the time, our preparations in one, help us in the next. What’s true in the natural is so often true in the spiritual. So how do we best prepare ourselves for the various times that will come our way in 2017?
We have a handful of spiritual tools that are key to our success, tools you know: prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, staying in community, and Bible reading. Each is important, but let’s talk about daily Bible reading. How’s that going for you? I bet a good percentage of us made at least a mental note, if not a resolution, at the new year that we want to grow in our Bible reading in 2017. It isn’t always easy, is it? Where do we start? What do we do when we hit verses we don’t understand? How can we get the most out of it?
Where do I start?
If you aren’t sure where or how to start, I recommend using a Bible reading plan that fits your style. One of the best tools available is the YouVersion app. Download that to your smart phone or device and you’ll find a slew of options. You might choose a theme-related reading plan, or a plan to read through the New Testament, or the gospels . . . you’ll see different plans for reading through the entire Bible in a year. Lots of options, don’t be overwhelmed(!), but select something that works for you and then – here’s the key – get started and stick with it. If you’re new to Bible reading, try a shorter plan (7 days, 21 days, month), with measureable goals and frequent wins.
I’ve done different reading plans through the years, from theme-related, to reading the Bible chronologically how it was written, to book-by-book. For me, my go-to is the book-by-book plan, and here’s a link to the plan I’ve used for several years:
I’m not bound by the order of this plan; some years I follow it, other years I jump around, but keep track of my reading so I know I’m getting in all the books of the Bible. But you find what works for you. Bible reading, like prayer, is called a spiritual disciple. Yeah, the word discipline is used for a reason. Your flesh will fight you on it, but it will be enormously rewarding! You can do it! You’re preparing your heart and mind for today, but also for the next season, whatever that season will be.
What do I do if I don’t understand something?
When, not if! I guarantee we’ll all come across verses, sections, entire books, we will wonder aloud What does that even mean? Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to explain it to you. He may answer immediately, or He may provide an understanding over time, through other readings or conversations. It’s amazing how often the unclear passage will surface in weekend messages, random conversations, etc., when we invite the Holy Spirit to explain it.
The key here is to not get bogged down. Keep going. If you enjoy journaling, write the questions down. I promise, the Lord will not let those go unattended forever. I have a “stew pot” simmering in my mind, full of questions for the Lord. It doesn’t frustrate me, and He’s not intimidated. Every so often, at the right time, He prepares a meal for me from the pot, and lets me taste the understanding of something that’s been on my mind for months or even years.
If you’re a student-type and want to dig deeper, I highly recommend looking up the passage in a commentary, or doing a word study using an online Bible-study site. Here are a few options.
How can I get the most out of my daily reading?
Start with prayer. Spiritual understanding is given by God, not attained by our wisdom or cleverness, so ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in your reading and teach you along the way.
King David’s prayer is often what I use to open my time:
Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law. (Ps. 119:18)
Not every time, but many times, maybe most, there will be a word or verse, a thought, that stands out to you during your reading. Don’t rush past that. Pray it in, pray it through, ask the Lord what He wants to say to you about that. If you journal, right down your insights and impressions. The key is to be interactive with the Bible and our teacher, the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26; 16:13)
Be encouraged, Ladies, as you dig into the Bible this year. As long as we’re reading and learning, we’re winning. Don’t swallow the “failing” or “doing it wrong” lie. Learn from one another, but keep your eyes on your own plan and stay at it! Let’s be preparers in the spirit – preparing ourselves for ALL God wants to do in and through us, individually and corporately.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
Let’s be women who grow in our faith this year, by growing in the word of God!